Local Asian Americans Work to Cure Diabetes

Newton residents Ann Wong, and Wesley and Summer Chen, are no strangers to the far-reaching effects diabetes can have on a family. Ms. Wong and the Chens will once again join efforts to spread awareness and raise funds to find a cure for the disease as co-chairs of the 10th annual “A Spoonful of Ginger” event to benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI).  Asian Americans are nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as the general population in the United States, and this problem is growing at a tremendous rate.

This year marks Ann Wong’s third year of involvement, and second year co-chairing the culinary and cultural occasion.  Ann has personally felt the effects of the disease after experiencing gestational diabetes during her second and third pregnancies.

Newton resident Ann Wong

Newton resident Ann Wong

“During my last pregnancy, it was uncontrollable,” says Ann. “I needed to receive insulin shots to help regulate it and I would stress about the finger pricks every day. Since then, for the past twelve and a half years, I have exercised regularly, maintained a healthy diet and monitored my glucose levels in order to prevent the disease later in my life.”

Not only has Ann experienced diabetes directly, but she also understands its effects from her father, Empire Garden restaurant owner and fellow Joslin supporter, David Wong, who is living with diabetes. It is prevalent among her husband’s side of the family as well. As a mother of three children, Ann is concerned for the younger generations; she ensures that her own children eat healthy, exercise, and become aware that both sides of their family have a history of diabetes.  For Ann, diabetes’ pervasiveness in her family was reason enough to help support Joslin’s efforts to prevent its onset, to control it for those living with it, and to work toward a cure.

Wesley Chen and his wife Summer are well aware that they, too, are at a greater risk of diabetes in the future.  Along with his father and many of his relatives who are “borderline diabetic,” Wesley’s paternal grandmother has been living with Type 2 Diabetes for over 30 years.  Now 91 years old, the family credits Ah-Pao Chen’s resiliency to the care she has received at the world’s most preeminent diabetes research and clinical care organization, the Joslin Diabetes Center. Last year, Summer’s father was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and both her great-grandfather and great-grandmother lived with the disease.

Newton residents Wesley, Summer and their daughter Clara

Newton residents Wesley, Summer and their daughter Clara

Wesley is the Executive Chef of the Lotus Cuisine chain of restaurants, which he owns and operates with his four uncles and two aunts.  They recently completed a beautiful renovation and created a new menu at their Cambridge restaurant, Changsho; Wesley credits all of his family’s successes to his grandmother.

“We’ve always considered grandma the CEO of the company, and this will probably be the final project for her.  We added more diabetes-friendly recipes to the menu, a lot of dishes that she normally eats.  She is still very healthy and very strong because the one thing we really focus on is her diet.”

One of Wesley’s trademark dishes, the lobster taco, will be prepared and served at “A Spoonful of Ginger” on March 17th.  He was one of the first people who started this dish in the Massachusetts area, and at last year’s event, 500 tacos were gone after only an hour and twenty minutes.

“There was a learning curve,” says Wesley. “Food that is healthy often doesn’t taste as good, and it took us a little bit of time to figure out how to change that.  In the early 2000’s I did advanced research and experimentation and realized, you really can do things with healthy food that taste good; it’s just more labor intensive and takes more effort. We have achieved the best of both worlds now, healthy and delicious!”

Wesley got involved with Joslin over 12 years ago to help with a food demonstration at a diabetes conference being held in Boston.  Two years later, he was approached by Joslin’s AADI to participate in what was then a new food tasting event featuring some of Boston’s most renowned chefs: “A Spoonful of Ginger.” Now in its tenth year, for Ann Wong and the Chen family, the event is something they will continue to be part of for a very long time.

“What’s great about ‘A Spoonful of Ginger,’ is that you are in this stunning space at the Museum of Fine Arts, surrounded by some of Boston’s greatest chefs and nearly five hundred people, and you know they all understand the importance of bringing awareness of this diabetes epidemic to the Asian community,” Ann says.  “We must take action, or this cycle will just continue.”

“A Spoonful of Ginger” will be held on Monday, March 17th from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm at the Museum of Fine Arts.  Tickets are $250 per guest, and all proceeds benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative. 

For more information on the event, to become a sponsor, or to purchase tickets, contact Joslin Development at 617.309.2512 or kevin.hudson@joslin.harvard.edu.

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